Sunday, April 27, 2008


In America, when we think of a log house we visualize a cabin, built of round logs, the gaps between them filled with a lot of chinking. Frontier settlers needed to get their homes up quickly, while they were still trying to get their land cleared and planted, but in more settled places people had time to make a tighter fitting house. They would square off the logs, making them fit closely together.
The Gnome's Cottage is based on northern European log houses. If you look around, you can find similar log homes were also built in the US.

This little house was built of logs cut from a pine board, but you could use square dowels from the lumber yard. Since a 1" board is actually 3/4" thick, my logs are 3/4" square.

They're notched at the ends to fit together. There are several different styles of notching logs. This is the one I'm most familiar with. I also enhanced my logs so they wouldn't look like square dowels fitted together. Using the edge of a dremel drum sanding attachment, a "scribbled" lines along the length of the log. In this closeup you can see the effect. I also sanded the edges of each dowel, so they wouldn't be perfectly square and fit more realistically. If you look carefully, you'll see I forgot to sand one before I glued it into place. This is why I scribbled notes to myself like...remember to sand edges before gluing.

I started with a masonite panel as a base, then I glued the first logs to it, using square wood scraps in the corners. The first logs are notched on one side only. As I built this house, I noticed that I notched some logs both top and bottom and some only on one side. I could have thought about why I occasionally found I had no need to double notch, but I was just glad I didn't have to.

Onece the glue had dried for my first set of boards, I added more blocks to help support the floor, and I added another set of logs. I then cut a piece of thin plywood for the flooring base and glued it in place.

Here you can see the plywood panel and the walls partially up. I measured and marked where I wanted the windows to go, and made note on the logs.

I tend to scribble notes to myself everywhere, since they'll get covered up as I'm building.Things like the aforementioned , remember to sand edges before gluing, or, another row???.
I also used pegs to help keep smaller sections of logs in place because they have no notching to secure them. I drilled through several logs, then dabbed a little glue on a thin dowel, pushing it into place. I use bamboo skewers wherever I need thin pegs.

Here's an example of where I found I only needed to notch of the logs on one side.

Next I prepared to add windows.. I glued these pieces of basswood into place to make the sills and sides. It's important to remember to decide how much of an overhang you want your sills to have.

The windows are made of Skinny Sticks sandwiched with acetate sheets. For those unaquainted with this product, you can see one in the lower part of the picture. It's a good idea to stain the sticks before gluing them with rubber cement to the acetate. The leading is from Gallery Glass. The stuff tends to glop when I try to make a thin line of it, but since the windows are so rustic, I didn't mind.
I glued the windows in place with wood glue, which is what I use for all my building.
Framing which is cut from basswood goes around all 4 sides of the window. A piece of decorative trim will be glued to the upper piece of framing. You could also use precut basswood strips for the framing instead of cutting them yourself.
Here's the door.

I cut 3 strips of basswood, which, when fitted together makes a door 3" wide, the width of my opening. I also cut a section from the middle panel where the window will go. I glued the 4 pieces of wood together, leaving the open space for the window, then glued reinforcing basswood strips on the back top and bottom.
Here's an inside view. Once dry, you can insert the window. I glued small strips of Skinny Sticks to the front of the door, forming a frame. The sticks overlap the opening slightly, and a piece of acetate is then glued to the backside of these sticks. The next step was to cut square toothpicks and glue them to the inside edge of the window to keep the acetate in place, the I used the Gallery Glass leading, topping off with more Skinny Sticks to make a window frame.

The next step was to make the barring system. I used thin plywood to make the catches, basswood is more likely to snap when it's cut this way. The plywood was cut into 3 small squared off C shapes. Two are glued to the door, one to the wall. I left a gap in the framing to everything would fit snugly. The bar is cut from another Skinny Stick. I drilled a small hole in one end and glued in a small piece of thin dowel to form a knob. The door turns on pins.

Next I cut the floorboards. I used basswood, though I've also used thin plywood on other projects. Generally, if it's basswood, I use 3/32" thickness.
When I cut basswood with my bandsaw, no matter how carefully I do it, the cuts are not perfectly straight. Of course, in a rustic house like this one, irregularities enhance the effect, but you do want your floorboards to butt together without large gaps. For this purpose, I number my boards as I cut them, gluing them down in sequence. Once they're laid, I'll weight them down while they dry. You can use wood glue or rubber or contact cement. With the wood glue, it's possible to get a little warpage here and there with basswood, but with the contact cement you have to drop the board down perfectly in place each time. You can take your pick.

Now the 3 walls are up and stained. Note that I did not notch the walls at the open end of the house. Instead, I cut wooden squares and glued them into place simulating the effect of notched logs. You could notch the ends with tiny log sections if you wanted to.
Just as in real log house building, logs never fit perfectly. I've found that even when working with square cut pieces, at some point the cumulative effect of hairline differences in thickness will be seen. I used 2 wood screws to tighten down the top dowel that ran across the front of the cottage.

I used a cherry stain in this project, but I've found that I often like to overlay a gold colored stain when the first one is dry. It adds a little richness and warmth to the color. In this case I happened to have a can of Golden Pecan. In the next picture you can see the effect. The lower half of the floor is done with plain cherry stain, while the upper half has had a top coat of pecan too.

The next step was to make the hearth. This is built up using blocks cut from a 1" pine board and scraps of plywood.
Next I brushed the hearth with a quick coat of white paint. I drew in the area where the oven door should go and started applying spackling compound. I left the area for the little door free, and also the hearth where the bricks were going to go. After the compound had dried, I sanded it fairly smooth, then rubbed with a wet rag, finally applying more white paint.
The next step was to glue the hearth into place,which has the added effect of strengthening the walls.
After that I cut a bit of Rigid Wrap, dipped it in water to activate the plaster, then arranged it to form a curved area in the corner above the stove. I pressed and smoothed the edges of the cloth to adhere it to the walls, and let dry til stiff.
Rigid Wrap is a plaster covered gauze. I used it during the construction of The Nuthouse.

After this I spread a thin layer of spackling compound on the stiff cheesecloth and surrounding walls, and when it dried, I rubbed it down with a damp rag to smooth any rough edges or bumps, being careful to avoid pressing on the curved area, and painted the spackle white. The next step was to glue the bricks into the hearth. I prefer the real clay bricks. When they were set, I added a bit more spackling compound around the edges, and rubbed some over the bricks. I then wiped most of it off, leaving just a touch. When it was all dry I used a black oil pastel crayon to apply some soot. I rubbed the crayon on my finger, then rubbed the finger onto the areas I wished to soot up. Later I made some ashes out of DAS or Paperclay. I flattened out a sort of lumpy, irregular shape, then I rolled small balls into very thin elongated shapes, sort of the width of angel hair pasta. I broke off small pieces and arranged them haphazardly over the lumpy area and let it all dry. You don't want a hump of ashes, just something that will look blackened with bits of burnt up twigs. Once it's dry, the ash lump is painted black, then dabbed a bit with gray. The ash pile is then glued to the hearth, and a bit of black paint is dabbed around it to blend it all in. I also like to make a black wash, dabbing it on the hearth and wiping the excess away with a tissue to give it that well used effect.

Getting back to construction, the gables were cut from 1/4" plywood. I cut the exterior facing boards from 1/16" basswood. To be sure that the basswood boards butted each other when glued, I numbered them, just as I did the floorboards. I used contact cement to glue them on. The decorative wooden carving on the primary gable was purchased. I cut the thin basswood boards to fit around it. When this was done, I applied a coat of cherry stain.
I then glued thin square dowels to 2 interior edges of the gable. These will help support the roof.
Since the log walls were 3/4" thick, and the plywood gable was 1/4" thick, I used a 1/2" square dowel to make the next log.
I cut 2 sections of that log, leaving a space for the beam that will support the attic loft.

Clamps were used to hold everything in place til dry.

The gables of the first gnome cottage were done differently. While I was working on it, I got the idea that if I ever did another one, I'd try this way.
Since the gable wall was thinner in this second version, I got the idea to apply supporting timbers before I added the first roof section. I drew some vertical lines on the plywood to simulate the inside of the exterior sheathing, then I glued on the timbers, while the house was laying on its side. When one side had dried, I flipped the structure and did the other side, giving both sections a coat of stain after the glue had dried.
The next step was to cut the front roof panel. Before I glued on the panel, I held it in place so I could measure how long my loft floorboards needed to be. They were cut from 1/8" thick basswood. I stained one side of the wood, then I cut it into "planks", again numbering them. I glued them into place before I added the roof. It's easier to do it this way, though you do have to make sure the roof panel and boards meet correctly.

I also prepared the chimney section that's on the loft level. It's made of scrap and plywood. I glued the large side section into place. It will also help support the roof. I decided to add another small triangle in the corner to strengthen the structure.
By the way, you'll notice one of the loft floorboards is missing. I ran out of 1/8" thick basswood and had to wait til I got some more to finish it.
You can see a bit of light coming through the crack between the loft floor and the roof panel, which I didn't like. I glued Skinny Sticks there to seal the space up, though I could have used a strip of any thin wood.
Here's another view.


The next picture shows the exterior stained and finished at this point.
The scalloped trim was glued into place under the eaves. Behind it are thin strips of wood to help support it. I bordered the door and windows with decorative trim, and gave everything a coat of cherry stain. I also like to stain the roof before I apply any shingles, this way, if I wind up with a gap here and there, or if at some point part of a shingle breaks loose, it won't be that noticeable.

On the inside I glued some more timbers and stained the inner section of the roof. I also glued the final section of the interior chimney. The chimney was covered with spackling compound just like the hearth.

The chimney is made of a square dowel sheathed in plywood to get it to the right size. I left the top inch or so of the dowel unsheathed because I like the chimney pot effect. The chimney is covered in spackle and painted, with a black square painted on the top for the hole. The most important thing about the chimney is that it be cut on the correct angle, unless, of course, you want a tilting chimney.

I used 2 sheets of preserved moss I bought at a craft shop for the roof. I laid one sheet on the roof and adjusted it til I knew just where I wanted it to go, then I sketched in a rough outline of its edges. This would guide me in laying the shingles.
When I glue on wooden shingles, using wood glue, I will glue on 2 or 3 rows, then I'll lay 2 strips of wood over them, the width of the roof. I'll use clamps to keep the wood strips in place. This method ensures tightly glued shingles that stay put and don't curl up. Of course, if your shingles do curl, don't get too upset. My home is covered in cedar shingles that curl up like crazy in dry weather, I can even see light here and there in the attic, but so far I haven't had a drop of water in the attic for 10 years. Wooden shingles just like to curl up whether they're mini or life sized.
At a certain point of shingling, you do need to stop and start gluing the moss into place. I used hot glue. Since it's commonly used in dried and silk flower arranging I thought it might be the best choice. The final shingles need to be cut and tucked in along the edges of the moss. The first time I made a shingle/moss roof I did try gluing the moss on top of the shingles at the edges, but I didn't like the effect. It looked a bit too lumpy for me.


The gnome's cottage is not exactly 1:12 scale. I call it gnomish scale. Everything is sized for the gnomes that will live in it. The doll shown in the photo is 1:12 scale. She's @ 5" tall. You can see that she'd have to duck to get under that beam.


Of course, all the gnomes' furniture had to be built to their specifications.
I used basswood, purchased trims and moldings and a Michael's hutch to make everything.
Here's a picture of the completed cottage. The chimney is a bit askew. This is because it isn't glued on and it moved a little when I turned the house for this picture. The cottage is to be shipped to a buyer across country, and I thought it a good idea to let her glue on the chimney herself.

The original gnome's cottage had a more complicated front, with an attached shed, but since this one was meant to be packed and moved, I decided a simpler porch would be a wiser choice. The owner plans on adding a few flowers, etc. This porch can be packed up inside the house with the furniture for shipping.
Here's a view of the inside. I wanted a boxed bed, with a little window so the moonlight or morning sunshine could stream in.

The various little containers on the shelves are made of wooden turnings. Even the vase filled with flowers is a wooden bead filled with hot glue, then tiny flower stems.
Here are some more pictures.
The basket hanging by the bed is a cradle. If baby wakes during the night mama can reach out and give the cradle a gentle tap and lull the baby back to sleep without getting out of bed.
The tablecloth and the lace on the windows are cut from a paper doily


Here's a gnome's eye view of the hearth.